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Communities Demand Consent Right In Blue Carbon Deal


Top: A collage showing townspeople from the Central River Cess District, River Cess County and Gibi District, Margibi County. Graphic by Rebazar Forte and pictures by James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

YARPAH TOWN; GIBI – Communities that would be affected by a potential carbon credit deal between Liberia and the United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon are demanding their right to consent.  

The Liberian government has been negotiating with Blue Carbon to sequester carbon on more than a million hectares of forestlands as part of a US$50 billion deal that also involves Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and possibly Angola. The potential 30-year deal would affect towns and villages in Margibi, Sinoe, Lofa, Gbarpolu and  River Cess.

But local people who own the forest have not given their consent as required by Liberia’s land and forestry laws. More than a dozen people The DayLight interviewed in potentially affected communities in River Ces and Margibi expressed dissatisfaction.  

“We think we should be contacted and we should be apart because carbon has something to do with the community people,” said Matthew Walley, a local forestry leader in the Central River Cess District, River Cess County. The proposed Blue Carbon agreement targets over 57,000 hectares of forest in the region.

“We want the government to halt the arrangement and they should come to us and sit with the community,” Walley added.

The Liberian government has been negotiating the deal after signing a memorandum of understanding with Blue Carbon in March. Liberia sees the agreement as an opportunity to meet its climate objectives, including to slice its deforestation rate by  2030. Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the UAE Royal Family, aims to use the deal to help reduce carbon emissions globally.

But national and international campaigners have criticized the deal for—among other things—disregarding the rights of rural communities. The Land Rights Act and Community Rights Law… with Respect to Forest Lands guarantee locals’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for land and forest-based concessions.

A draft of the controversial agreement, seen by The DayLight, shows that the government intends to get communities’ consent between August and November. However, that should have happened prior to the government’s initial MoU with Blue Carbon, based on the principle of consent.

“The government feels that they have power over [us who] live within the communities. So, they do things on their own they don’t inform us,” added Marthaline Smith, a member of the leadership.

“If they want to really give our forest out to company or NGO, we have to sit down and discuss it…,” Smith added.

Yarpah Town, River Cess is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The government has to talk to me first,” said Harry Lawgar, an elder in the Poye community Gibi District, Margibi County.

The deal targets the Gibi Proposed Protected Area, covering over 88,000 hectares of forest. Like in River Cess, Lawgar and other people in Gibi The DayLight interviewed raised qualms for being overlooked.

“Everybody should be inclusive,” said Jerome Poye a townsman also in the Poye community.

“The community has to get the understanding of it,” Lawgar added.

Locals said they needed to know exactly what was in the agreement for them.

The current draft agreement apportions 70 percent of carbon royalties for Blue Carbon and 30 percent for the Liberian government in the first 10 years and 50 percent apiece thereafter.

It also sets aside 50 percent of the carbon royalties, 40 percent interest from the government’s shares and a five percent interest payment from the government’s stakes in the project for the communities.

But it does not say how the carbon credit will be valued and traded, and how the carbon saving will be generated. It also fails to say what certification standards it would use.  Experts say these are the major components of the carbon market, which is still emerging globally.

The international community criticized the “vague” proposed deal when they discussed it on August 3, according to a document seen by The DayLight.   

Gibi District, Margibi County, is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a proposed carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Villagers in Central River Cess and Gibi, two of Liberia’s remotest regions, demanded to know about their benefits. They said they needed everything from clinics, roads, schools and livelihood programs.

“We want to know the calculation. If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation?” said Walley of River Cess. “Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism?”

“How the calculation will be done we don’t know because they will not just come and give the community US$50 or US$100, saying that it is our benefit,” Walley added.

“We will not accept it.”

[Tenneh Keita contributed to this story]

FDA Authorized Firm’s Illegal Harvest on Private Land


Top: A graphic depicting an elder, illegal logs, abandoned logs and camp, and harvesting maps from an unlawful plan the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By Esau J. Farr

CONIWEIN, Grand Bassa County – One day in late 2020, Abednego Davies spotted some loggers felling trees on the way to his farm.

The forest does not fall within the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest so, what were they doing there, Davies thought to himself. The land belongs to Coniwein a section in the Marblee Clan in Grand Bassa’s District Number Two. 

Surprised and suspicious, Davies headed back to his village and told the elders, who proved his suspicion was right. In no time, the elders summoned a representative of the African Wood and Lumber Company and halted the illegal operations.

African Wood conceded it encroached on the villagers’ territory and began to negotiate to continue but that would not happen, according to documents The DayLight obtained and elders we interviewed.

The elders knew the harvesting was happening on the Coniwein’s land and so it was illegal. Back in 2019, Coniwein had opted to be part of the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest but African Wood refused, according to Gonaweh Gbiahgaye, one of the elders. The following year,  the elders had warned African Wood from their land while the company prepared to harvest.  

“Coniwein is a section with a substantial deed, which, if you want to do anything, you should meet the citizens,” villagers said in a May 2020 letter to African Wood at the time. Coniwein’s land covers 6,760 acres, a copy of the community’s deed, seen by The DayLight, shows.

Having ignored Coniwein’s warning, African Wood now tried to convince the elders to continue the illegal operations. A meeting by the parties ended in deadlock, according to Gbiahgaye.

The elders wrote Joshua Howard, a manager of the African Wood, rejecting its proposal to keep the logs in question and cut additional ones. Then they asked the company to pay for the logs it had harvested.

“We are telling you not to touch any of the logs or cut down any logs until we all meet and come down to one conclusion,” the January 2021 letter read.

The DayLight photographed the stumps of trees of African Wood and Lumber illegally harvested in Coniwein private forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Such negotiation is prohibited in forestry. Communities are under a legal obligation to inform the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in such matters, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products. It requires the FDA to investigate and seek a court’s approval to confiscate and then auction the logs in question. It also sets a penalty for logging outside a contract area.

But amid their rowdy negotiation, a huge pile of the illegal logs adjacent to Davies’ farm disappeared between March and July, according to some villagers.

African Wood had taken the logs not long after Davies discovered the illegal operations, former workers of the company said. One account had it that the company smuggled the woods overnight. However, The DayLight could not independently verify the claim.

“When they felled the logs, they took some and some remained in the bush. Our work was to extract logs from the bush for the company,” said David, whose duties included fastening the tags bearing barcodes to the logs.   

Another former worker, Daniel Muopoe, corroborated the account. He said, “[African Wood] felled our logs from our community but they never carried [all of them].”

A handwritten letter from Coniwein to African Wood, warning the company against its encroachment on the community’s land. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

In total, African Wood harvested about 200 logs, according to Muopoe and other ex-workers who participated in the illegal operations.

A team of reporters from The DayLight photographed and videotaped some of the logs in a forest near a town called Wayglon before and after the disappearance. White tags clearly brandishing “African Wood & Lumber Company” were attached to the wood. Some standing trees had tags on them, suggesting they had been earmarked for harvesting.  Felled trees lay in the forest in a number of locations, some rotting.

With no logs nor money and three years after Davies’ discovery, Coniwein has decided to inform the FDA about the incident.

Actually, elders attempted to inform the agency but a townsman tasked to lodge a complaint did not do so. “I have not gone to the FDA because I don’t know how to get to them,” Patrick Karngbo, who serves as Coniwein’s land administrator, told The DayLight.

What Coniwein did not know was that the FDA had authorized the harvesting on their land.

The FDA had illegally granted African Wood and six other companies access to excess forests to harvest in short timeframes.  The most infamous of the seven was the West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI). A Ministry of Justice investigation discovered WAFDI had harvested the illicit forest area for nearly three years, exporting thousands of round logs.

Gonaweh Gbiahgaye, an elder of Coniwein Section in District Number Two, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

But African Wood’s harvesting of the illegal FDA-approved forest area remained unreported—until now.

African Wood’s harvesting plan for 2019-2020 shows the FDA authorized the company to cut trees on 5,600 hectares. However, the plan further shows that 6.95 percent of the FDA-approved area was outside Marblee & Karblee, including in Coniwein. 

Doryen wrongly claimed in the letter that the plan conformed with the Guideline for Forest Management Planning and the Regulation on Pre-felling Requirements. “After thorough review… by the joint team…, we hereby approve said plan, having met all basic requirements,” Doryen wrote African Wood’s CEO Cesare Colombo on June 17, 2019.

On the contrary, the plan broke all those legal instruments. Doryen did not respond to questions The DayLight emailed to him for this story.

African Wood’s operations in Coniwein are not the company’s first logging offense.

In December 2020, the company harvested 550 logs in a forest in River Cess without the FDA’s approval. The FDA replaced a ranger in responsible for that region but did not take any known required action against the firm.

Adjacent to Coniwein’s woodland, African Wood has neglected the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest, leaving the landowners with about a US$140,000 debt and abandoning 2,682 logs, according to official records.   

Colombo did not respond to questions for comments.

Lofa Superintendent Extorting Money From Plank Dealers


Top: The Superintendent of Lofa County William Tamba Kamba unlawfully imposed fees on planks produced in the county. Graphic by Rebazar Forte

By James Harding Giahyue and Mason Kollie  

  • The Superintendent of Lofa William Tamba Kamba illegally collects money from plank producers and dealers in the county
  • Forestry laws and regulations do not give a superintendent any power to impose fees on wood
  • Vahun District fought against the Kamba toll system and halted all payments to him
  • Kamba has failed to account for the funds he has collected in three years and counting

VOINJAMA –  The Superintendent of Lofa William Tamba Kamba collects fees from plank producers and dealers in the northwestern county, breaking the law and regulation governing a lucrative but secretive subsector of forestry.

Under the National Forestry Reform Law and the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, superintendents have no such power. Practically, only the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the plank workers union, communities or individuals who own forestlands have.

But since 2020, producers and dealers have had to pay Kamba up to L$1,500 to make or transport planks, according to documents and interviews.

Kamba, who recently constituted a committee on illegal logging and mining, organized a toll taskforce at major FDA checkpoints to collect the so-called “superintendent toll” or “county toll.”

Dealers who transport the woods outside Lofa pay L$1,000 or L$1,500 per truck, depending on the size of the vehicle. Dealers within Lofa pay L$1,500, receipts obtained by The DayLight show. In fact, truck drivers transporting planks must present their toll receipts to pass an FDA checkpoint. Our reporter witnessed some of the payments and checks in Voinjama and Zorzor.

“Now as we are talking, I get two trucks on their way coming I know they took the county fees and the town toll as well,” David Kesselly, a wood dealer in Paynesville, said earlier this month.

Even people who fell trees to make planks, known in the forestry industry as chainsaw millers, pay L$15 per plank and sometimes more.

Kamba introduced the fees in Vahun in 2020 before replicating it across Lofa, plank dealers in the district said.

By then, Vahun’s plank producers and dealers were smuggling planks across the border to Sierra Leone with the help of district officials. Kamba may have taken advantage of a leadership crisis in the district following the suspension of its commissioner in January 2020.

A truck carrying hundreds of planks. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Initially, local officials supported the scheme, according to Duana Momo Kamara, a resident who collected the fees for Kamba at the time. “Many planks were piled in the area as the result of that conflict,” Kamara recalled.

Despite a partial ban on the exportation of planks, those who paid were permitted to export their planks to Sierra Leone, Kamara added. The ban is meant to stabilize the supply of planks on the domestic market, which largely depends on the chainsaw milling subindustry for everything from furniture to construction. Under the regulation, planks can only be exported when barcoded and registered into Liberia’s timber-tracing system, something forestry authorities are yet to put in place.

A toll receipt Superintendent William Tamba Kamba’s office issued to a plank dealer late last year. The DayLight/Mason Kollie
A receipt shows records of Superintendent William Tamba Kamba’s collection of illegal fees from plank dealers in Vahun, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
A receipt a truck driver received from the Office of the Superintendent of Lofa after paying L$1,000 on New Year’s Day. The DayLIght/Mason Kollie

One receipt from Kamara’s records shows he collected L$53,125 at one point in 2021. Out of the amount, L$5,000 was for Kamara, L$10,000 for the Office of the Commissioner of Vahun and L$3,500 for Garmai Kennedy, Lofa’s chief accountant. Kennedy signed several other receipts seen by The DayLight. She declined an interview, referring our reporter to her bosses instead.

Kamba’s Vahun collection continued until last year when Julie Fatorma Wiah, the Representative of Lofa County District #3 halted it. Local officials began to oppose it, over allocation issues and control.   

“I told them to stop giving [the] Superintendent money because he is receiving funding for operations from the government,” Wiah told The DayLight. “If the situation continues and we cannot find a common ground, we will have to inform the central government.”

Kamba eventually discontinued the toll system in Vahun sometime last year, with local officials now presiding over the illegal collection.

“I was not happy about the money that goes to the Superintendent because we’re supposed to use the money in the district,” said Christopher Brima, Vahun’s youth president. “We’re not supposed to give it to the Superintendent.”

There is no public record of the money Kamba has received in the three years of his toll system neither is there any account for its expenditure. Kamara claimed that some of the funds were used to transport players of Lofa in the 2022 County Meet but provided no evidence.

“Please help us as a journalist to find out from the FDA and the Superintendent where they are using the money they collect from us,” Armah Ansu, a wood dealer in Voinjama, told our reporter.

Kollie Zumah, a dealer at Liberia’s oldest wood dealership in Sinkor, expressed the same concern. “I cannot tell who the superintendent toll goes to,” he said.

The Office of the Superintendent evaded every effort by The DayLight to access the information. In November last year, Kamba referred our reporter to Kennedy, who said she needed permission from Flomo Jomah,  the Assistant Superintendent for Fiscal Affairs.  

A chainsaw miller at work in Kpasagizia, Lofa County in November 2022. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

When contacted, Jomah said he was in Monrovia, promising that he would give The DayLight a copy of the toll record upon his return to Voinjama. He has since been out of the county and other efforts to obtain the document up to writing time were unsuccessful.  

Plank dealers, who pay a variety of other fees, said Kamba’s toll hurt them. They said the toll—and a high gasoline cost—made them increase prices, with customers paying more for the same or lesser planks.

“As a business person, you will not like to lose. Therefore, for every expense made on the planks, I have to include it during the sale of the planks,” said Kesselly, the wood dealer in Paynesville. He said he pushed the price of his smallest plank from L$1,200 to L$1,350.

“So, obviously, the toll payment makes me increase the prices of the planks,” Kesselly added. The Liberian Chainsaw Miller and Timber Dealers Union (LICSATDUN) confirmed some of its members have complained about the toll.

‘Under our own creation’

Normally, plank dealers pay US$0.60 to the FDA and L$5 to the Liberian Chainsaw Miller and Timber Dealers Union (LICSATDUN) per plank. They also pay unspecified fees to the towns or villages where they fell trees, in some cases, farmers who claim forestlands or “bush owners.” 

These fees might be normal but they are not entirely legal.  The FDA has failed to regulate the plank sector over the past one-and-a-half decades since it emerged. It has not been transparent about the funds it collects from hundreds of chainsaw millers across the country. The agency did not respond to questions for comments on the matter.

Plank producers, known in the forestry sector as chainsaw millers, make planks in Berkeza, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In that November interview, Kamba wrongly claimed that the Local Government Act gave him the right to impose the toll, which he said affected other goods.

“We organized the toll system that is intended to really aid the county to be able to address the number of administrative and some issues that affect the county,” Kamba told our reporter. He claimed to use the fund to maintain the county’s roads and buy stationery “under our own creation.”  

But the Local Governance Act, one of the first two legal instruments President Weah signed into law back in 2018, does not give superintendents the power to levy fees on any good. It only gives local governments the authority to raise revenues, done by increasing prices and supplies of goods, etc. 

The law gives the power to levy fees or taxes to county councils, governance bodies that comprise chiefs, the youth, the disabled communities and pressure groups.  Moreover, the Lofa County Council has not been formed yet, only neighboring Bong County has so far. And  Superintendents are not even members of county councils, according to the law. 

During our interview, Kamba claimed that the toll system was “[un]functional in most parts of the county,” except in Voinjama, Zorzor and Foya. However, chainsaw millers in Kolahun, Berkeza, Kpasagizia and Salayea told The DayLight they were still paying superintendent toll and some provided receipts.

Kamba’s claim that he uses fees he collected from businesspeople for road repairs appears not to fit the reality. The main route to Lofa is generally currently impassable by vehicles, except for motorcycles and certain cars. It has been that way for decades.

[Emmanuel Sherman, Prince Mulbah and Tenneh Keita contributed to this story.]

This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

How FDA Gave Loggers Over 14K Hectares of Surplus Forests


Top: Graphic showing FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen and different illegal activities of West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By Emmanuel Sherman

GONO TOWN, Grand Bassa County – At the end of 2021, the Ministry of Justice concluded an investigation into a Chinese-owned company accused of illegal logging.  

The investigation confirmed that the West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) harvested logs in the Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest in excess of legal requirements. However, the investigation found WAFDI was not alone.

It turned out, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), which had recommended the official inquest, had illegally awarded WAFDI about 14,460 hectares of extra woodland in Grand Bassa’s Compound Number Two. The agency had approved Gheegbarn’s entire 26,363 hectares to be harvested over two times faster than normal forestry regime demands.

What happened in Gheegbarn was the peak of illegal logging activities in at least seven community forests in four counties. It could be the biggest logging scandal after the FDA illegally awarded about 2.5 million hectares of forestlands to companies over a decade ago.

‘We hereby approve…’

It all began in December 2018 when WAFDI signed a seven-year agreement with the leadership of Gheegbarn #1. (They call it that way to distinguish it from Gheegbarn #2, a neighboring community forest). WAFDI is owned by a Chinese named Wang Chenchen. It has a link with Augustine Johnson, the manager of  Mandra, an Asian-owned company the FDA recently penalized over its abandonment of thousands of logs.

One year on, WAFDI presented the FDA with its harvesting blueprint for five years, known in the industry as a forest management plan. Then it broke down the plan into seasons.

Season 2018-2019, the first, targeted about 3,700 hectares, the documents show. The other plans featured larger harvesting areas, including about 4,000 hectares for the season 2024-2025, according to The DayLight’s estimate.

The unlawful map of WAFDI’s operations in Gheegbarn #1 shows the company’s plan to harvest all the community forest within just seven years, more than two times faster than the normal rate.

The FDA confusingly illegally approved WAFDI’s plans twice, first on July 4, 2019, and then on August 26, 2020, according to official documents.

“We hereby approve said plans having met all basic requirements,” FDA’s Managing Director Mike Doryen said in communications to the company. It ironically hyped the plans for being “complete,” “accurate” and containing “quality information.”

“Therefore, management anticipates full compliance in the implementation of these plans as we strive to ensure sustainable forest management in Liberia,” the letters added.

Plans approved, WAFDI began to operate in 2019, according to official records.

But barely two years later, the FDA disapproved of WAFDI’s attempt to export 601.801 cubic meters of logs. The FDA accused WAFDI of harvesting timber in forest areas it had not permitted.

Later on, the FDA asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate, which it completed in about two months. SGS had reported the matter a month earlier in a monthly publication.

By that time, WAFDI had harvested 6,007 or 32,347.855 cubic meters of logs, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), citing FDA and company records. It exported some 29,104 cubic meters. In 2021 alone, WAFDI sold US$531,460, LEITI records show.

The investigation did more than book WAFDI over the embattled swathe of forest. It found that the FDA was largely responsible for the situation.

Top: A worker watches as logs of West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) harvested with an illegal plan are loaded onto a container truck. Here: Four container trucks loaded with logs WAFDI illegally harvested in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The investigation found that other logs from the purported unapproved blocks were previously approved and export permits were signed by the FDA… and SGS,” Minister of Justice Frank Musa Dean wrote to Harrison Karnwea, the chairman of FDA’s board of directors, on December 2, 2021.

“WAFDI took advantage of [FDA’s illegal approval] and requested to commence operations and same was granted by FDA beginning 2019,” Dean’s letter further read.

It said FDA and SGS had sanctioned the company’s harvest and export under the very illegal plan FDA. SGS is a Switzerland-headquartered firm that helps track Liberian logs from their sources to final destinations.

The FDA broke the law in the first place by approving the company’s plan to harvest all 26,326 hectares in seven years, the investigation found.  The National Forestry Reform Law requires the FDA to monitor all harvests and ensure they are legal and sustainable. The Code of Harvesting Practices, on the other hand, restricts the rate of felling trees to 15 years.

The investigation unearthed FDA had endorsed the WAFDI-Gheegbarn deal to last for seven years, instead of the 15 years in the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands.

The DayLight’s review of the illegal harvesting plan showed FDA awarded all of Gheegbarn’s 26,326 hectares in just seven years. The regulator further okayed the company to operate somewhere between 3,700 and 4,000 hectares. That was more than doubled the forest area the code requires.

Overall, the FDA granted WAFDI an area in excess of 14,460 hectares of humid, Bassonian forest, according to our calculations. And by the time of the ministry’s inquest, WAFDI had already harvested 11,600 hectares an unlawful bonus of 6,500 hectares. That means, in less than three years, WAFDI cut trees which would have taken seven years to do legally.  

WAFDI was not the only company in the scandal. Within that same period, the FDA illegally approved six other agreements in Grand Bassa, River Cess, Nimba and Gbarpolu.

Like WAFDI, the FDA authorized the companies to harvest all of their contracted forests within the duration of their agreements.

The scandal mirrored another one in Zorzor, Lofa County, where the FDA permitted a company to harvest an estimated US$2 million worth of logs outside its contract area. The FDA replaced its staff who supervised the county at the time.

‘Restore the Sanctity of the FDA’

The Ministry of Justice urged FDA’s board to take action against individuals “to restore the sanctity of the FDA.”

C. Mike Doryen oversaw the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal community forest agreements from 2018 to 2020 that granted companies excess forest areas. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

The board of directors heeded the ministry’s advice. It passed a resolution on January 26 last year, calling for the dismissal of Jerry Yonmah and Simulu Kamara, the technical managers of the commercial and legality verification departments, respectively.

The resolution also called for the dismissal of Abraham Sheriff and Jessie Vannie, the operations and data information managers of the legality verification department, correspondingly. They deny any wrongdoing.

Gualberto Ojo, right, and some of WAFDI’s workers at an event in March. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Five days after its resolution, the board asked President George Weah to sack and retire Joseph Tally, FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Operations. The board accused Tally, who the resolution listed, of aiding in the illegalities.

“This will send a strong message to would-be violators,” Karnwea’s letter to President Weah read. It said the scandal had “eroded the credibility of the management team, thereby affecting donors’ behaviors.”

Though the resolution spared Doryen, who approved all of the illegal documents, he was clearly reprimanded. The resolution advised him not to sign any future documents without the counsel of the FDA’s legal department and that he must attend important meetings to be abreast with forestry matters.

President Weah did not heed the board’s recommendation and Tally remains in his position. Tally told The DayLight in June the matter was now “water under the bridge,” praising “dynamic” and “prudent” President Weah for retaining him.

Also, none of the accused masterminds was fired. However, they were all replaced, giving way to new heads of the commercial, legality and community forest departments.

The Aftermath

In the end, WAFDI’s agreement with the villagers was amended from seven years to 15 years. Subsequently, work in Gheegbarn ceased for about 11 months.  It was unclear whether the FDA and WAFDI corrected its harvesting plan as the Ministry of Justice had instructed. The FDA did not grant The DayLight’s request for that and other documents, a violation of several forestry legal instruments.

As the scandal shook the FDA to the core, it took a toll on Gheegbarn.   

In their agreement, WAFDI promised to build roads, schools, a clinic, and latrines, construct handpumps, and pay scholarship fees. However, the company has not met its obligations.

“They are using the halt as an excuse to not do our projects,” said Junior Wesseh, the head of the community leadership. “They have been operating for five years, only two handpumps and a latrine they dealt with.”

One of the two handpumps in Gono Town, WAFDI constructed. It is obligated to construct eight of them by now. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

Apart from community projects, the company also failed to pay harvesting fees before its operations ceased.

“They said they were not responsible for our cubic meters fee, because they lost US$1 million dollars,” said Larry Tuning, the secretary to the community leadership.

Based on The DayLight’s calculations, WAFDI should pay Gheegbarn US$64,695 for the logs it produced from 2019 to 2021, at least according to official data. We could not independently verify Tuning’s claim in the absence of payment records. By law, WAFDI and the FDA should have published the figures in the newspapers and the agency’s website.

Junior Wesseh, head of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest leadership. The DayLight/Carllucci Cooper

WAFDI called off an interview with The DayLight in its third minute upon Johnson’s orders. Johnson said the newspaper had not given prior notice. He did not respond to emailed queries afterward.  

But responding to criticisms from Gheegbarn’s leadership when the European ambassador visited the area in March, Gualberto Ojo, a WAFDI representative, blamed the company’s indebtedness and failures on the U.S-China trade war and illegal chainsaw milling. The ambassadors had chosen the region as a case study to understand the challenges of community forestry.

Ojo—and the FDA managers present—avoided talking about perhaps forestry’s biggest scandal in the last decade.

The FDA did not return The DayLight’s queries for comments.

This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Six Laws Blue Carbon Deal Would Violate Explained


Top: A forest in Sinoe County, one of the places that would be affected by the proposed Blue Carbon deal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Esau J. Farr

The government of Liberia is in negotiation with a United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon in a deal that is worth US$50 billion.

The parties have drafted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in which Blue Carbon will manage over a million hectares of Liberia’s rainforests for 30 years.     

UAE sees the deal as part of its efforts to create a decarbonized world, according to the Gulf country, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

But it has been hugely criticized for disregarding a number of Liberian laws.

National and international NGOs and the opposition Liberia People’s Party have criticized the draft agreement. All three groups called for the Liberian government to halt the negotiation and make the necessary legal corrections.  

The DayLight takes a look at the laws the deal would violate if sealed:   

The National Forestry Reform Law

The proposed Blue Carbon deal would be a complete violation of the National Forestry Reform Law because it would cover more than 1 million hectares of forest. The law restricts the size of any concession to not more than 400,000 hectares. That is nearly three times the size of the proposed Blue Carbon deal.

The Public Procurement and Concession Act

If it goes through, the Blue Carbon deal will breach the Public Procurement and Concession Act of 2010.   

Section 55 of the law grants the Public Procurement and Concession Commission the power to sole source a concession but only in an “extreme urgency,” and other instances, none of which the deal qualifies for. 

Section 101 of the act also provides for a sole source but limits it to a bidder with specialized expertise only that the bidder can provide, the concession involves research only the bidder can undertake or it would be against national security for a competitive bidding process.

But, none of those instances fits Blue Carbon, established only about a year ago and has not traded in the carbon market before.

The Land Rights Act

The Blue Carbon MoU fails to recognize customary land ownership since it did not seek the free, prior and informed consent information of rural communities.

Article 32 of the Land Rights Act of 2018 grants community ownership of customary land to rural community members. It states that “Customary land is acquired and owned by a community in accordance with its customary practices and norms based on a long period of occupancy and or use.”

Liberia has even created an FPIC policy and an FPIC guideline that reinforces villagers’ consent power.

Noteworthy, “free” means that locals must be allowed to say yes or no without fear or coercion.  “Prior” implies that consent must occur significantly in advance and there must be ample space for consultation. “Informed” means villagers must have all the information about the project, including nature, size and duration. And “consent” can be granted and withheld, even with consultation.

The Community Rights Law…

Nine years before the law, rural communities already owned forestlands under the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. That law also guarantees communities’ right to consent to any concession on their forestland.

The law clearly states in Section 2.2, “Any decision, agreement or activity affecting the status or use of community forest resources shall not proceed without the free, prior and informed consent of [the] said community.”

Section 10 of the National Forestry Reform Law had three years earlier guaranteed community “informed participation” in forestry governance and management.

In fact, community along with, commercial logging and conservation were the “three Cs” of Liberia’s forestry reform process before carbon credit made it “four Cs.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Because the Blue Carbon MoU did not seek the free, prior and informed consent of members of the potentially affected communities, it would breach the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Liberia is one of 144 countries that have ratified that instrument, which is not legally binding but shows the direction of the international community on indigenous people matters.   

An excerpt of the September 13, 2007, UN Resolution, the precursor of the principle, states, “Convinced that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories, and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs.”

Community right to consent is also a major part of other human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the very United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that guides the carbon market.  

The Liberian Constitution

Since the right to property is clearly protected in the Constitution of Liberia, it would be unconstitutional for the government to interfere with community property. The government can only grant concessions for forest carbon on forest lands it owns.

The forest areas concerned in the Blue Carbon, are, however, not owned by the Government. There is a good chance that communities own much of the proposed agreement-affected area.  

So, there is an uncertain legal basis for the Liberian government to negotiate a concession for land it potentially does not own. 

This is a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).  

International NGOs Call for Halt to Blue Carbon Deal


Top: Liberia’s proposed deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates is expected to cover over a million hectares of rainforests. Graphic by Rebazar Forte

By James Harding Giahyue

  • Liberia and Blue Carbon should halt carbon credit negotiation, as the deal violates Liberian laws, according to a group of international NGOs  
  • The deal must comply with procurement, forestry and land laws, and seek the consent of local communities to continue
  • The NGOs say the United Arab Emirates wants to use the agreement to “greenwash,” its own carbon emissions
  • NGOs say the “vague” and “secret” deal is not good for the Liberian government and indigenous communities and undermines Liberia’s own climate targets

MONROVIA – A group of 16 international NGOs has called for a halt to an ongoing carbon credit deal between Liberia and Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates until it complies with Liberian laws and is clear on how the country and local communities would benefit.  

The Liberian government and Blue Carbon negotiating the terms of the agreement. The government wants to give the company over 1 million hectares of land over 30 years for US$50 billion, according to a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU).

But the deal would be a violation of Liberia’s procurement forestry and land laws, the statement said. 

“We, therefore, call upon the Government of Liberia and Blue Carbon to halt these negotiations until there is clear evidence that the contract is in line with Liberian law,” the NGO said in a statement released last week. 

“This risks the livelihoods of up to a million people. It would also extinguish community land ownership in the selected areas while violating peoples’ legal right to provide free, prior and informed consent for any developments on their land,” it added.

In March, Liberia and Blue Carbon penned the agreement, in which Liberia is expected to lease Blue Carbon a number of protected areas and proposed protected areas to solely manage. Blue Carbon’s mission is to use bilateral agreements to help reduce carbon emissions globally, according to its website.

“This bilateral association marks another milestone for Blue Carbon to enable government entities to define their sustainable frameworks and help transition to a low-carbon economical system…,” Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, Blue Carbon’s chairman and senior member of UAE’s Royal Ruling Family.  

Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah, Jr. said the deal marked an “era of sustainability.”  

But local communities that would be affected by the deal have not had a say in it, a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law, the Land Rights Act and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an instrument Liberia has signed into law.  All three legal instruments require villagers’ free, prior and informed consent in concessions negotiations.

Furthermore, more than 1 million hectares of rainforests render the MoU illegal. Liberia’s forestry law limits forest concessions to 400,000 hectares.

The NGOs call on the parties to consult communities and incorporate their benefits into the deal. They include Fern, Friends of Earth Netherlands and the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“It should also prove that the financial support provided protects threatened forests and restores degraded forests with strict monitoring and control mechanisms in place,” the statement said.

The proposed deal would also break the Public Procurement and Concession Act because there was no bidding.

A forest in Sinoe County is one of the places that would be affected by the proposed Blue Carbon deal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The Liberian cabinet endorsed Blue Carbon as a sole source on June 3, based on a letter from the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen to the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

In the letter, Doryen asked PPCC’s Officer-in-Charge Stevenson Yond to approve Blue Carbon as a sole bidder for the concession.

Section 55 of the procurement law allows for “sole sourcing,” except in an “extreme urgency,” and other instances, none of which the deal qualifies for.  

Section 101 of the act also provides for a sole source but limits it to a bidder with specialized expertise only that bidder can provide. It also requires the concession to involve research only the bidder can undertake or it would be against national security for a competitive bidding process. However, none of those instances fits Blue Carbon, established only about a year ago and had not traded in the carbon market before.

Doryen did not immediately respond to The DayLight’s queries for comments.


The international NGOs accused the UAE, a country that has one of the highest emission rates in the world, of using the Blue Carbon deal to offset its own greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the Arab nation, which hosts the United Nations climate change conference later this year, allegedly wants to invest in Liberia’s rainforest and continue its energy, oil/gas and infrastructure projects.

“The revenue model described in this contract generously allows for that,” the statement said. “This contract seems to give Blue Carbon, a private UAE company, the authority to act on Liberia’s behalf to negotiate [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] Article 6 rules.” Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement talks about carbon credits and trading.

The NGOs critique the draft document’s intent to award Blue Carbon the exclusive right to use carbon credits. Blue Carbon would exclusively manage the forest resources, including reforestation, conservation and ecotourism, according to the MoU.

“If they are sold, Liberia will not be able to use the carbon credits to meet its own climate targets,” the statement said. Liberia committed at the Paris Summit to reduce deforestation by 50 percent by 2030.  

“It is unclear what the benefits for Liberia and its communities will be. The contract is confidential and extremely vague, and a [MoU]… signed in March this year has not been widely discussed,” it added.

The statement followed criticisms from national NGOs and the Liberian People’s Party.  

The DayLight has reached out to Blue Carbon for comments.

Women Want to Continue Roles in Troublesome Community Forest


Top: Dugbormar Kwekeh, a member of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest tells European envoys about challenges with commercial logging in that part of Liberia in a March meeting. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Emmanuel Sherman

JIMMY DIGGS TOWN – A logging contract between a community forest and a Chinese-owned company in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County is perhaps forestry’s most troublesome agreement today.

But women on the leadership of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest, which has a contract with West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI), desire to continue their roles as elections draw near.

“We will be willing to work again if elected because we want to develop our place,” says Dugbormai kwekeh a member of Gheegbarn’s community assembly (CA). She and other women spoke in the Bassa language through an interpreter.

“We want our children to go to school, we don’t want them to be like us,” Kwekeh added.

Elections for a new corps of officers for the community’s forestry leadership are slated later this year.

Every five years, a forest community elects new members to its community assembly, which represents towns and villages that own the forest. Members of the new assembly then elect officers of its executive committee, the highest decision-making body in community forest governance. The assembly also elects members of the community forest management body (CFMB), which runs the affairs of the community forest. The CFMB tenure ranges from two to five years. The Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands requires at least a slot for a woman on the CFMB.

Oretha Toway, a member of the CFMB  hopes to serve another term. “If appointed again, I will help the new leadership to build the community,” says Toway. “We don’t have any school, hospital.”

Illegal Logging

Gheegbarn’s trouble began from the very beginning in 2018. The FDA illegally approved the community’s Forest agreement with WAFDI with a lifespan of seven years, not 15 as required by law.

After that, the FDA authorized WAFDI harvest of more than three times the size of the forest as the law mandates. It took over three years for the Ministry of Justice to discover the scandal in an investigation.

The ministry later reprimanded FDA, SGS, the firm that created Liberia’s timber-tracking system, and WAFDI for breaking forestry laws and regulations.

The scandal tore off the roof of the FDA and the towns and villages of Gheegbarn. Logging activities in Gheegbarn were halted for nearly a year.  FDA board of directors asked President George Weah to dismiss several senior managers of the agency. That did not happen but a major reshuffle took place. Gheegbarn and WAFDI have retroactively signed a new contract for 15 years.

The women-member of Gheegbarn are aware of the impacts of the scandal on the community, including the over-exploitation of the forest in the last three years. (WAFDI exported 29,104 cubic meters of round logs during that time, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, citing FDA figures). However, it motivates them more.

(L-R) Dubormai Kwekeh, Oretha Toway and Markoni Geezee, members of Gheegbarn Community Forest leadership. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

“I will agree to serve as a member of the assembly, provided there will still be logs in the forest,” says Etta Diggs an assembly member.

The women want to cancel the agreement with WAFDI because it has not lived up to the agreement.

By now, WAFDI should have constructed two schools, connected four farm-to-market roads, and 10 handpumps by now and employed 60 percent of its workforce from Gheegbarn.

“We don’t want the company anymore. They brought poverty on us,” Kwekeh adds.   She had made the same point when EU ambassadors visited the community back in March. Kwekeh’s comments are backed by the law, as villagers can choose to cancel contracts with companies.

But amid the rigmarole with WAFDI, Gheegbarn also has an internal wrangle, which the women also want to address. The executive committee chair Robert Zeogar and the secretary to the CFMB Larry Tuning are at loggerheads with the chief officer of the CFMB Junior Wesseh, according to Wesseh and the women. Efforts to speak to Tuning and Zeogar on the issue did not materialize. Both men were not present during this reporter’s two-day stay in the area and their phones were off.

Wesseh, Zeogar and Tuning are signatories to the account, contrary to the community rights regulation. The regulation mandates the chief officer, the treasurer another authorized community member approved by the assembly.

“The EC chair [Zeogar] and CFMB secretary [Tuning] have been making unauthorized withdrawals with alerts coming to the CFMB chief officer [Wesseh],” says  Jonathan Yiah. Yiah’s NGO, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), works with Gheegbarn’s leadership.  

Markoni Geezee, a member of the assembly would only serve another term given that Tuning and Zeogar are replaced.  She accuses the duo of enriching themselves at the expense of the community.

“We walked till our slippers cut along the way for the company to come but now we are the losers,” says Geezee.  “You only have a few people getting rich from the forest.”

Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest has been a scene of forestry’s biggest scandals in a decade. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Funding for this story was provided by the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.

Crocodiles and Monkeys Seized at School Owner’s Home


Top: A collage of pictures of a crocodile and monkey seized by the Special Wildlife Investigation Unit now at the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary

By James Harding Giahyue

  • The Special Wildlife Investigation Unit on Thursday seized crocodiles and monkeys at the home of a school owner
  • Crocodiles and monkeys are endangered species whose protection is mandated by law
  • The school owner said he runs a “mini zoo”
  • unauthorized possession of live animals violates the wildlife law, with a fine between US$100 and US$150 or a three-month sentence

MONROVIA – In the Bible, Noah gathered many animals in an ark to save them from a horrible flood, following God’s instructions.

But the owner of a school named after the prophet’s famous ship may have taken matters into his own hands.  

The Special Wildlife Investigation Unit on Monday seized seven crocodiles and two monkeys at the home of  Joseph Bestman, the owner of Noah’s Ark High School in Gardnersville Township.

The unit recovered the animals following an early morning combing of Bestman’s Gardnersville home, acting on a search and seizure warrant. Pictures on Facebook show armed officers deployed at the house.

In videos obtained from the unit, crocs can be seen in a concrete enclosure with darkened and rotting water. The monkeys appeared shaky in their metal cages as officers took them away.

“The hunting, trading, keeping as a pet, killing or rating of protected species is never acceptable in Liberia…,” the unit, which comprises the police Forestry Development Authority (FDA)/the Wildlife Crime Taskforce and the Liberia Revenue Authority, said in a statement.

Joseph Bestman. Picture credit: Facebook/Noah’s Ark High School

Bestman is being held at the headquarters of the Liberia National Police in Monrovia and would be sent to court, police spokesman Moses Carter said.

Efforts to speak to Bestman did not materialize up to writing time. However, Bestman told Prime FM earlier he had established the “mini zoo” to show students what the animals look like.

The unit works with other institutions such as the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary and Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection. It is supported by Focused Conservation, an international charity that helps to bring wildlife poachers and traffickers to justice.

“The Liberian authorities together with their international partners will continue to work to bring wildlife traffickers to justice,” the statement added.

The animals were taken to Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary in Margibi, where a vet examined them, according to the unit.

The operation was the unit’s fourth in four months of its establishment. The first was the recovery of chimpanzees, the second was the detention of a pangolin scale trafficker, and the third was the arrest of an 85-year-old man with 26 live parrots.

The National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Area Management Law prohibits unauthorized possession of live animals, with a fine between US$100 and US$150 or a three-month prison term.

Crocodiles and monkeys are endangered species, protected by both Liberian and international law.

[O’Neil Philips contributed to this report]

FDA Illegally Cut Contracts Term And Gave Companies More Forests

created by dji camera

Top: The Forestry Development Authority unlawfully authorized companies to harvest trees in forests in excess of the legal requirements. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By James Harding Giahyue

  • For three years, the Forestry Development Authority illegally approved community forest contracts with reduced tenures, according to official documents
  • The FDA then authorized logging companies to fell trees in forest areas in excess of the legal requirements. Subsequently, the companies were to harvest up to three times more than the lawful timeframe
  • At least one of the companies harvested in an extra forest area for three years before the scandal broke out
  • A Ministry of Justice investigation found the FDA, its partner SGS and a company liable for at least one case

MONROVIA – From 2018 to 2020, the Forestry Development Authority unlawfully approved several contracts in community forests with reduced lifespans. Then the FDA authorized some of the contracted companies to harvest logs yearly in areas more than twice the legal sizes, according to unpublished official documents and an investigation report by the government.  

In those three years, the FDA sanctioned seven logging agreements whose lifespans were sliced from 15 years to between five and 14 years, the documents show.

Thereafter, the agency permitted five companies to operate thousands of hectares of excess forestlands, breaking legal frameworks. At least one of the companies harvested in the extra area about three years before it was discovered in 2021, according to the Ministry of Justice report.  

“The advent of illegality in the forestry sector has eroded the credibility of the management team, thereby affecting donors’ behavior,” Harrison Karnwea, Sr., the chairman of FDA’s board of directors, told President Weah in a letter last January.

“We have started to see the negative impacts on their support to our National Budget,” Karnwea added.

The FDA suspended and replaced four top-level managers after the ministry’s inquest, including Jerry Yonmah, the former technical manager of the commercial department. Yonmah denied any wrongdoing.

FDA board of directors asked President Weah to dismiss Yonmah, the other managers and Deputy Managing Director for Operations Joseph Tally— particularly for Gheegbarn #1. It also asked for the retirement of Tally, who had served the agency for over 30 years at the time. Yonmah had denied any wrongdoing.

Joseph Tally, the deputy managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) speaks at an event when European Union ambassadors visited Gheegbarn #1 in March 2023.  The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

But none of the dismissals happened. Yonmah and the other managers were transferred to new departments, while Tally retains his position. Tally dubbed the matter “water under the bridge” in an emailed statement to The DayLight on Wednesday and said he had a “creditable reputation.”

The scandal was similar to one in Bluyeama, where the FDA sanctioned a company to harvest trees outside its contract area valued at an estimated US$2.2 million.

Illegal Contracts

An agreement between Kparblee Community Forest in Nimba and Sanabel Investment Incorporated was reduced to 14 years. The same happened with Korninga B in Gbarpolu and Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited.

Another between Gheegbam #1 and the West African Forest Development Incorporated in Grand Bassa was shortened to seven years.

The FDA also sliced four other agreements to five years. They include Marblee & Karblee and African Wood & Lumber Company, Tarsue and West African Forest Development Inc in Grand Bassa. The Gbarsaw & Dorbor and African Wood & Lumber, Ziadue & Teekpeh and Brilliant Maju agreements in River Cess complete the quadruplet.   

The reductions go against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands and the Community Rights Regulation. The legal frameworks restrict community-forest contracts to 15 years, subject to a review every five years.

The frameworks are key pillars of Liberia’s agenda to share the benefits of forest resources with locals following decades of deprivation.

Leaders of the community forests affected scandal distanced themselves from the illegality of their contracts.

Abraham Cooper of Marblee and Karblee said last year, “We did not sign any agreement behind the government of Liberia.”  

Forest Bonanza

While the FDA cut the lifespans of the seven unlawful contracts, it authorized the companies to cut trees at faster rates to match the legal 15-year period.  In one case, the agency approved a company’s plan to harvest outside its contract area.  

C. Mike Doryen oversaw the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal community forest agreements from 2018 to 2020. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

For instance, the FDA approved African Wood & Lumber Company’s harvesting plan for 5,600 hectares in the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest from 2019 to 2020. It had authorized the company to cut trees on 28,000 hectares for all five years of the operations, according to one of the documents.  

That means the FDA endorsed the company to harvest 3,645 hectares of forest in addition to the 24,355 hectares of the community forest. The FDA even authorized African Wood & Lumber to cut trees outside the community forest. Nearly seven percent of the area crosses over to territories belonging to adjacent towns and villages, one document shows.

“After thorough review… by the joint team…, we hereby approve said plan, having met all basic requirements,” Doryen wrote African Wood CEO Cesare Colombo, approving its plan for the 2019-2020 harvest season.  

Doryen wrongly claimed in the letter that the plan contained accurate, complete and quality information. He incorrectly referenced the Guideline for Forest Management Planning and the Regulation on Pre-felling Requirements.

By law, African Wood & Lumber should have gotten 1,600 hectares per year, according to the guidelines and regulations Doryen cited. (It was unclear whether the company actually harvested in the extra area or outside the forest.)

Cesare Colombo, African Wood & Lumber owner and CEO, did not respond to emailed queries for comments.  

A screenshot of a page of a harvesting plan the Forestry Development Authority approved that illegally gave Marblee & Karblee 5,600 hectares of land, instead of 1,600 hectares. It also shows that the FDA authorized the company to cut trees outside its contract area in Grand Bassa’s Compound Number Two.

The height of the scandal was the West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI). The company actually harvested logs in the extra forest area the FDA approved in 2018.

In late 2021, the Ministry of Justice uncovered that the company had been operating on an illegal harvesting plan. Ironically, the FDA and WAFDI had disagreed over the export of logs from the very illegal area the regulator had approved.  

But by then, WAFDI had exported some 29,104 cubic meters of round logs from 2019 to 2021, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). In 2021 alone, WAFDI sold US$531,460 million LEITI records show, citing FDA and company figures.

The ministry reprimanded FDA, WAFDI and SGS, a Switzerland-based firm that created Liberia’s log-tracking system, for the violations.

Minister of Justice Musa Dean said in a letter to Karnwea that Doryen approved WAFDI’s plan “although such management plan violated… the National Forestry Reform Law… and the Code of Harvesting Practices… 

“FDA was in gross violation of the law in failing to ensure that the approved management plan reflected the portion of the forest area that could be harvested within seven years… and not allow blanket harvesting of the entire area for five years,” Dean’s letter read.   

FDA’s board of directors urged Managing Director Mike Doryen, who approved all the illegal contracts and harvesting plans, to sign future documents with the advice of the FDA’s legal department.

The board also suggested that Doryen attended sector meetings to abreast himself with governance and operational matters. Doryen still skips those meetings, according to two regular attendees of the regular gatherings. At an international climate and forest conference Liberia hosted earlier this year, he had promised to attend the meetings. Doryen did not return a thread of emails we sent to him between last February and this month.

WAFDI called off an interview in its third minute with The DayLight at the company’s camp in Compound Number Two. A company executive said The DayLight did not inform them about the interview beforehand.

Abandoned Agreements

All of the other companies involved in the scandal have deserted their responsibilities to the government and the communities.

African Wood & Lumber has not worked in Marblee & Karblee in the last three years. It abandoned some 2,682 logs in Marblee & Karblee. And it owes the company an estimated US$126,029 community in land rental and harvesting fees.

Indo Africa has abandoned Korninga B, which had filed for cancellation of the deal following years of stalemate.

WAFDI no longer works in Tarsue, which did not have the right to sign an agreement when logging began there. Locals had considered terminating the contract.

African Wood walked out of the agreement with Gbarsaw & Dorbor, where it illegally harvested 550 logs in December 2020.    

Gbarsaw & Dorbor is one of the community forests for which the FDA approved an illegal logging agreement. The DayLight/William Q. Harmon

Similarly, Brilliant Maju has not been active for years, according to local media and a union of authorized community forests. The company has failed to fulfill its side of the agreement with Ziadue & Teekpeh.   

Sanabel abandoned 710 logs in Kparblee, and owes the Nimba community in land and harvesting fees, according to villagers.

“The agreements are dormant,” said Bonathan Walaka, the lead facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body. “They are all dormant.”

This story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Early Signs Logging Contract Is Failing


Top: Grass-covered culverts meant to construct handpumps for communities adjacent to the Central Morweh Community Forest. The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon

By Gabriel M. Dixon

BOEGEEZAY TOWN, River Cess – Cracks have started to emerge in this new logging agreement in southcentral Liberia.

Central Morweh Community Forest signed a contract with the Kisvan Timber Corporation In March 2021. To harvest logs in a 19,091-hectare forest, The company promised the villagers safe drinking water, roads, support for healthcare, and a school. It also promised to pay fees for harvesting and the use of the community’s land.

Now three years after the contract, Kisvan has yet to complete the handpumps, and schools and provide fees for clinics. It has outstanding payments for land rental and harvesting, according to the villagers.  

“The time should have been last year December with the company for the completion of the hand pumps and the school,” said Clinton Cephus, head of the community’s forest leadership.    

“From 2022 to this year we have not received scholarship benefits, [and]… this year we have yet to receive payment for land rental fees,” he said.

As part of their February 2021 agreement,     the company agreed to construct a road from Boegeezay Town to Sameria Town, and three metal or concrete bridges over the Duahn, Guahn, and Nepu creeks.

The road from Boegeezay to Sameria should have been completed in December 2022, and the construction of the three bridges next year.

Kisvan also agreed to complete 16 handpumps and a 10-classroom  school and offices in the first year of the contract from February 2021 to December 2022.

Apart from infrastructure, the company agreed to provide an annual scholarship fund of US$6,000 and healthcare services support of US$5,000.

The contract also requires the company to pay another US$6,000 per quarter for the services of community forest guards. 

Van Ngo, the CEO of Kisvan, admits the projects are yet to be completed.

“This season, we started very late (middle of February) due to the very down market. We are doing our best to keep up with the social commitments and our operations,” Mr. Ngo tells The DayLight via email.

That was the exact opposite of what he claimed back in March in an interview in Kisvan’s log yard in Buchanan, Grand Bassa. Except for the school, claimed then every project. “We are always committed and we are always on top of it to ensure that we working well with them,” Mr. Ngo said at the time.  

Amid his admittance, Mr. Ngo claims the company has done better than what Cephus and the villagers allege. He says Kisvan has completed 75 percent of a school project in Kporkon. This reporter saw the unfinished school building in Kporkon but could not independently verify Mr. Ngo’s claim.

A youth struggles to pump water out of a handpump well built by Kisvan in Kporkon. The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon

Mr. Ngo denies his company had outstanding payments to villagers. He claimed he paid all the fees as of last year without showing any evidence of the payments.

Mr. Ngo also claims the company has completed 50 percent of the handpumps and the community “appreciates” a 35-meter log bridge there. The villagers we interviewed did not give that impression.

Villagers say the school is substandard for a US$40,000 project. They say the project has no blueprint, there was no bidding process for the contractor and Cephus did not consult them.

Cephus concedes to those claims. “It (selection of company) was done through the [community forest leadership’s] office, which needed not to have been so,”  he says.

Kisvan also owes the community one year in land rental and scholarship fees, according to Cephus, and has not paid any money for harvesting.

A US$40,000 uncompleted school in Kporkon Town,  which has been rejected by  the community people: The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) did not grant The DayLight access to Kisvan’s exports. The company also did not provide that information upon our request. Their denial violates a number of forestry laws and regulations.  

Cephus claims the company has shipped some 5,700 cubic meters of logs but did not provide any proof.  

Mr. Ngo said back in March that “We have 2,000 cubic meters of logs” at Kisvan’s log yard. The DayLight photographed several of the logs, marked with “KTC,” the company’s industry-recognized abbreviation. Some were in squared form.

Mr. Ngo’s comments in that March interview indicate Kisvan exported logs. At one point, he complained that it was expensive to export timber in containers through the Freeport of Monrovia.

The Forestry Development Authority breaks its regulation by permitting Kisvan to export logs while it remains indebted to Central Morweh. The Regulation on Forest Fees prohibits the FDA from granting companies with debt export permits. The agency did not respond to questions on the matter.

Roadblocks and ‘Devil’

In forestry, communities sign a forest management agreement with the FDA for 15 years, subject to a five-year review.  Thereafter, they can enter logging agreements with third parties. The scheme is meant to share forest benefits with locals.

But the signs of the failure two years into their agreement with Kisvan, villagers in Central Morweh are concerned whether they would benefit from their forest.  

“The community [is] vexed now and asked the… the leadership to call the company to tell them what they’re doing is not going down well with us,” says Sarah Neegar,  a member of the community assembly from  Kporkon Town. The community assembly comprises representatives of towns and villages that own the forest and is the highest decision-making body in community forestry.

Some of the logs Kisvan Timber Corporation Harvested from the Central Morweh Community Forest in River Cess County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We told the [leadership] to call the company so we can discuss with them but since that time they can’t come,” adds Neegar. 

“If the company [doesn’t] come, we will put a roadblock, to put our Bassa devil and be dancing. Then now somebody will come in.” Devil is the Liberian parlance for a traditional mask dancer whose outing could connote celebration or chaos.  

Neegar’s comments are echoed by Junior Gbatea,  the youth chairman of Kporkon Town.

Cephus shrugged off any threat of a protest. “Well, I don’t know their thinking because every individual has his/her own understanding or doing things,” he tells The DayLight.

His comments align with the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Land. The law lays down specific ways forest communities can seek redress, and none has to do with protest or violence.